UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK : Baker Finds High Points in a Lowly Season

UC Irvine's 7-22 basketball season had its low points--a 33-point loss to Loyola of Chicago in December, an 11-game losing streak and a loss to lowly San Jose State, which won only one other game all season.

But the Anteaters' first season under Coach Rod Baker drew to a stirring end with a 21-point upset of top-seeded UC Santa Barbara in the first round of the Big West Conference tournament last weekend. It was the first time in the tournament's history--history, of a sort--that the eighth-seeded team has beaten the No. 1 team.

"Let me explain something," Baker said. "Curing cancer makes history. Beating Santa Barbara doesn't make history."

Baker's team, which lost to Pacific in the semifinals, loses four seniors, but already has seven new players for next season's team, including three transfer redshirts who practiced all season. Baker is in between saying goodby to one team and greeting a new one.

"You always remember the first one everywhere," he said. "I would just hope they would look back at it with a certain amount of fondness and know they enjoyed what took place.

"This year was fun. It was an awful lot of fun. Even when things were bad, they weren't that bad."

He expects the work of this season's players has set a precedent for the next group--one that enters with more accolades than any recent Irvine recruiting class.

"Now the next group that comes in will have to play to a certain level," Baker said, "because the other guys won't allow them to do any different."

Starters Khari Johnson, Craig Marshall, Keith Stewart and Jeff Von Lutzow return, as do key reserves Elzie Love and Zuri Williams.

A look at next season's new players, with one caveat--admissions decisions on the entering students have not been announced.

Lloyd Mumford (Guard, Jr.)--Baker has known Mumford since the player was a youngster, and that was the connection that brought the former Villanova point guard to Irvine after Rollie Massimino dropped him from the team last summer. In his final game for the Wildcats, a second-round 1991 NCAA tournament loss to North Carolina, Mumford was named the player of the game after his 10 points and two assists led the charge in an upset bid.

Mumford was arrested and charged with attempting to enter a home through a window. Mumford, who argued successfully that he had mistaken the home for a girlfriend's, was cleared of all charges except disorderly conduct, for which he was fined. Massimino was sharply criticized in Philadelphia when he dismissed Mumford before the case was decided.

Mumford will be the premier newcomer on next season's UCI team, and Baker says he is "a point guard who can score."

"He always has to be guarded," Baker said. "You can't go away from him because he can shoot, get by you, get to the rim. He has the ability to find people and get the ball in people's hands. . . . Lots of point guards throw great passes that are never caught. They see guys and think their only job is to throw. Lloyd throws it so it's caught."

LaDay Smith (Forward, Soph.)--A midseason transfer from California, where he was dismissed from the team for unspecified disciplinary reasons. Smith is a graduate of Pasadena Muir High School, and was expected to contend for playing time at Cal before leaving.

"He's very physical, plays hard all the time and doesn't want to lose," Baker said. "He has a little nasty streak to him."

Keith Walker (Forward, Soph.)--Walker was the leading scorer in Orange County at Brea-Olinda High School in 1989-90, averaging 32.6 points. He transferred from Cal last summer after appearing in only nine games as a freshman at Berkeley. He is 6 feet 4 1/2 and 205 pounds and has been listed at guard, but Baker sees him as a small forward with an outstanding outside shot.

"As far as just understanding how to play, Keith Walker is as good as there is," Baker said. "Then you add in the fact that he can really shoot the ball."

Shaun Battle (Forward, Fr.)--Battle, from Cajon High School, was one of the 125 or so high school players invited to the prestigious Nike camp last season. At 6-6 and 220, he is not very tall for a power forward, but he has huge shoulders and very advanced post moves for a high school player. In one game, when three players collapsed on him, he spun away from one and stepped between the others for a dunk. He dominated his competition this season, averaging 27 points, 12 rebounds, five steals, three blocks and two assists while shooting 68% from the floor.

"Any time you can get a school's all-time leading scorer, all-time leading rebounder, all-time leader in assists and field-goal percentage . . . he should be a pretty good player," Baker said.

His drawback is a tendency to slack off--but still get his points--in high school games, particularly against lesser opponents. Baker declares that that will change.

"There are no more easy opponents," he said. "When you go from high school to college, hopefully you're going somewhere where everybody is as good as you are."

Dee Boyer (Center, Jr.)--Boyer, 6-10 and 250, will give the Anteaters the true center they lacked this season. He was erratic on offense this season but averaged about 13 points and nine rebounds for Saddleback College.

"He's a big, strong human being who can block shots and keep them in play, and rebound the ball," Baker said. "I like his personality. He's got a certain exuberance about him I like."

Joe Hannon (Forward, Jr.)--Hannon, a transfer from Canada College in Redwood City, is expected to be a fill-in player, not a star, but he did have a 33-point game against Foothill College this season, according to his coach, Mike LeGarza.

"The strength of his game is that he's a really mobile, aggressive player who gets after it on defense, competes hard on the boards," LeGarza said. "He's not a marquee player, but he's one of those guys who helps you win games."

Todd Whitehead (Guard, Fr.)--Whitehead, another player who was invited to the Nike camp, averaged 20 points for Fremont High School, but his season ended in a disappointing performance in his future home, the Bren Center. Whitehead scored only eight points and fouled out of Fremont's loss to Mater Dei in a Southern California Regional Division I semifinal. Baker, who saw the game, said he thought Fremont played tentatively, and that Mater Dei was able to keep assigning fresh players--Reggie Geary among them--to guard him. Whitehead, a capable three-point shooter, is able to drive and shoot, and was an active player in Fremont's pressing and trapping defenses.

Anteater Notes

Baseball Coach Mike Gerakos reached his 300th victory last week, but he previously had reached 300 losses. His career record: 302-319-8. Pitcher David Bladow is 6-0 after six starts, and third baseman Tim McDonnell is the leading hitter at .394. . . . The men's tennis team, ranked 25th in the nation, won only one match--No. 6 Neel Grover in singles--in a 5-1 loss to No. 24 Duke Sunday. The team plays host to No. 24 Texas A&M; at 1 p.m. Sunday. . . . Marieke Veltman, a triple winner in last week's track meet, is threatening the school record in the long jump. Veltman won the 100 meters, the 100-meter low hurdles, and jumped 20 feet 5 3/4 inches--a quarter of an inch shy of Michelle Kelly's school record set in 1983.

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